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United’s Mandela is a hit

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NEWCASTLE United team-mates have been so impressed with new captain Geremi’s calm approach and natural leadership skills that they have nicknamed him Mandela after the former civil rights campaigner and president of South Africa.


Geremi’s new title at St James’s Park has been revealed by goalkeeper Steve Harper, who insisted the Cameroon international had been the ideal and impressive choice to replace Scott Parker as skipper.


Manager Sam Allardyce had a number of candidates for the captain’s armband, including Harper’s rival for the goalkeeping jersey Shay Given, as well former England international Nicky Butt and another new arrival, Joey Barton.


But the former Bolton boss had been delighted with Geremi’s impact since he signed for the club in June and, with so many different nationalities in the first team squad, the multi-lingual former Chelsea and Middlesbrough midfielder was the obvious choice to bring them together.


“Geremi was the perfect choice to be captain,” said Harper, who will hope to hold on to his place in the side against Derby County next week despite Given’s impressive performance for the Republic of Ireland in Slovakia last weekend.


“I’ve already nicknamed him Mandela. He speaks like Nelson Mandela and he’s captain as well, so he has taken on that statesman’s role at the club. He speaks a few languages and with so many different nationalities in the squad that is important.


“I think he speaks French and Spanish, as well as English. He is a calm sort of character, but he has authority as well so it’s a fitting choice. He has slotted straight in, he’s one of the lads, but he’s been there and done that at Chelsea and Real Madrid so he gets a lot of respect from the players because he has that experience behind him.


“He is a good guy to have in the dressing room and people already look up to him.”


Like most Premier League dressing rooms, United’s has a distinctly cosmopolitan feel with Australia, Brazil, Canada, Cameroon, Czech Republic, France, Ireland, Holland, Senegal, Nigeria, Spain, Turkey and South Africa, as well as England, all represented in black-and-white stripes.


Although Harper admitted he had not heard much about some of the players signed by Allardyce during a busy summer of transfer comings and goings on Tyneside, he has been stunned by his manager’s extensive knowledge of world football.


Indeed, with three wins and two draws so far this season, the Easington-born shot-stopper is thrilled by the strength in depth the squad has after two years of being over-stretched in key areas.


Harper added: “A few people have come in during the summer who weren’t perhaps household names, but they have already proven they are excellent acquisitions. You have to credit the manager and his staff for doing that. He has a wonderful knowledge of world football and he has put it to good use.


“I think we have strengthened in the right areas and the squad has a lot of depth to it. I think there are two people competing for every position and we haven’t had that recently.


“I was surprised by some of the signings because, as I say, some of the lads weren’t household names in this country, but I’ve been really impressed with them.


“If you look at someone like (Claudio) Caçapa, he is 31 now and has slotted in and shown what a classy and experienced player he is straight away. But it isn’t just him, all the new signings have settled in straight away and you can see the ability they have got. We’ve got a strong squad and that bodes well for the rest of the season.”


Meanwhile, Allardyce is looking forward to welcoming an in-form Michael Owen back to St James’s Park after his international exploits.


As with all of his international players, Allardyce’s main concern this week is to avoid picking up any injuries before the trip to Derby County next Monday, but he is thrilled by Owen’s recent form after he scored his third goal in three games against Israel last Saturday.


He said: “His effort against Israel was very clever and such a fine finish from outside the box. He is looking comfortable and recovering well from his problems. That is another 90 minutes under his belt too, and that can only be good for him and us.


“Now we want to keep him fit, and that is on your mind with another high-profile game against Russia on Wednesday coming up – but hopefully Michael will come through it again like he did on Saturday.”

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